Leaders Don't Need Titles

For those of us in the National Capital Region, 2018 will be most remembered for the six tornadoes that hit Ottawa-Gatineau and the surrounding area on September 21.

In the electricity industry, every year has its share of weather-related crises. Lately, they seem to be occurring with greater frequency and ferocity; both here, in Ottawa, and across North America.

As leaders, we plan, prepare and practice for storms – but I can tell you that, as the CEO of Ottawa’s electricity company, I was genuinely scared that we weren’t prepared enough on the afternoon of Friday, September 21.

That afternoon, six tornadoes with 265km/h winds and lightning caused hundreds of power outages across the National Capital Region, destroying homes, downing trees and damaging more hydro poles than the infamous 1998 Ice Storm. Half of the city was without power at the height of this storm and the devastation in the affected neighbourhoods was heartbreaking to see.

Despite the reports of damage coming in from around the city, I’ve noticed something remarkable during my time here at Hydro Ottawa: for every crisis, new leaders emerge within our company. I’ve seen it every time we’ve weathered a storm since I first took this role in 2011.

I’ve leaned into the knowledge that, as leaders, we don’t have to go it alone. I’ve seen how my employees take on leadership roles at the most critical times. Most of whom don’t have an “official” leadership title, but that doesn’t stop them from being some of the first to jump into action or volunteer when there’s trouble.

The reason, I believe, is because our employees have a very clear purpose. That purpose is to help people. They know the residents of Ottawa depend on us to restore electricity in order to take care of their families and keep them safe. It’s an emotional purpose, not just an occupational one. And it’s this purpose (and our trust in each other) that connects us all at Hydro Ottawa, bringing out the leader in our employees every time.

The leaders I see in our company are those that care about people. And they’re the ones that help our company succeed every time we’re faced with a crisis. They understand that, in the end, we’re really just people helping people. And isn’t that what leadership is really about?

Working around the clock over that long emotional weekend, barely seeing their own families, our employees had the majority of customers with power back on by Sunday morning, and the rest restored by Monday evening; thanks also to the support from our contractors and help from our friends at Alectra Utilities and Hydro One.

As we plan, prepare and practice for the next storm, we’re discussing how we met this crisis and looking at strategies to make our grid more resilient against the certainty of more severe weather ahead. It’s also a time for reflection, and as I read our after-action reports, they highlight (with no surprise) how valuable our people were to our success.

I am celebrating the official and unofficial leaders in our company for sharing and believing in our common purpose. Because of them, I know we can weather any storm.

This article was written by Bryce Conrad, President and CEO of Hydro Ottawa, and first appeared on his LinkedIn Pulse. To read more articles written by Bryce, click here.